Who Taught You To Be a New Yorker?

Monday, January 27, 2014

Neon invites New Yorkers in for a hot bagel in Brooklyn as the snow falls. (Amy Pearl/WNYC)

This segment originally aired live on January 27, 2014. An edited version was included in a best-of episode of The Brian Lehrer Show on May 26th. The unedited audio can be found here. 

In today's "Metropolitan Diary," a man writes about how a native New Yorker taught him how to properly eat a bagel. We ask: Who taught you something about how to live in the city? Post your story below, or calll 212-433-9692...

Comments [44]

mark taylor from The Bronx

My fourth day in NYC in 1993, riding the subway in Brooklyn. I made direct eye contact with someone across from me. Instantly he says "what the fuck are you looking at?" Ok, got it. No direct eye contact on the subway. Got it.

May. 26 2014 10:53 AM
Kaz from Williamsburg, Brooklyn

My coworker who was born and raised in Brooklyn. She taught me how to "hustle" NYC-style. Her best advice: "Fake it till you make it"

Jan. 29 2014 09:31 AM
mitch mcg from Manhattan

I drove into Manhattan from LA one evening years ago. I had decided to live here. I found myself in midtown and saw a large box in front of a closed electronics store. I my un-NY mind I thought the box must be filled with newly delivered stereos or TV's or other valuables so I pulled up, looked around and quickly loaded the box into the back end of my car and sped away feeling guilty but ready to enjoy my newly found treasure. I drove to my newly rented apartment in Seagate Coney Island and carried the box into my apartment. I opened the box to find....a bunch of paper and cardboard and an half eaten sandwich. I short it was garbage. Lesson Learned.

Jan. 29 2014 08:18 AM
Armand from nj

My Uncle David
he took us to Gray's Papaya for hot dogs and the Silver Palace for Dim Sum,
40 years ago

Jan. 28 2014 09:23 PM
Veronica from Great Neck

My husband taught me to "surf the crowds". He lived here for a year before I moved in with him, about 15 years ago. We both had to walk through Grand Central Station from Lexington to Vanderbilt, during rush hour. I learned to ride the waves of people, without changing pace...sometimes ending up a few paces too far to the left or right, but always correcting before I got to the exit. I have such fond memories of Grand Central!

Jan. 28 2014 08:46 PM
Mary McGarvey from Queens

A friend from Chicago was living in NYC and I visited her for a couple of weeks one very hot summer before moving here myself. She told me to pay attention on the subway to whether it was going "uptown/Queens" or "downtown/Brooklyn". I always think of her when going to a new stop, and still mess up occasionally!

Jan. 28 2014 08:44 PM
Natalie from Brooklyn, NY

I first want to share that I love "Stuart from Manhattan"s response! I recall how proud I was when I mastered at age 7 to ride the subway - you know, no hands (feet just the right distance apart to keep from losing balance); knowing which car door to enter and exit so that I am exactly at the staircase I need to be when I arrive at my stop; knowing which stairwell leads where (whether NW, SE, etc.); knowing the best (read: cleanest) restrooms to use if you're out and about are ______________________ (Nope - not giving those away! But I assure you that neither B&N nor Starbucks are on that list. Oh, and "MSL, NY from UES" - PA is still on the AVOID list.).

Before I discovered the full question ("If you moved to NYC from elsewhere..."), I scoffed. "'Who TAUGHT you to be a New Yorker?!' 'Hell,' I thought. 'If someone has to TEACH you to be a New Yorker, then you're never going to be a New Yorker. It's not taught. It's breathed! It's inherited! It's earned!'" (Yep. NATIVE New Yorker here who, despite my age, sort of sneers at the overwhelming number of "transplants" invading the city each year....each season. The quote above is from the tirade I shared with my fellow New Yorker beau.)

Anyhow, then I clicked on the link to the article and discovered the full story (question that is), and was/am charmed by the stories shared. Thank you, fellow listeners for sharing :)

I will say that there is something terribly refreshing about none of the posts being about a lesson learned within this century when, "I came here to attend NYU/Columbia/The New School/Cooper Union/Fordham/etc. etc. etc. and I fell in love with the city and am never leaving!!!" And I'm not just being a stodgy 26-year-old Native NY'er (whose HS, college, and all graduate degrees come from different NYC institutions, including some of the ones above). My fellow NY'ers of other generations agree.

Case in point: I popped into Balthazar's Bakery this afternoon on my way from the Bronx (where I teach) to Brooklyn, shlepping my big old backpack and both marveling and delighting in how empty the sidewalks were this afternoon (the cold perhaps kept the "weak" at bay). A lovely older woman (70+) walking in the opposite direction that I was (both of us staying to our respective right) called to her daughter (40s?) a few steps ahead of her, "Well! I have to say I love that all of the tourists are gone! We have the city back!" As I passed them, I joined, "There not as bad as the ones who come here and stay for ten years!" She stopped walking (so I stopped walking). She looked at me. Blinked. And exclaimed, "Hey! You're right! Hey Judy, she's right! Those are the worst, aren't they love? Then they go and tell people 'Oh yeah. I lived in New York for awhile' - like that's anything real. Baloney!" And she kept right on walking.

I stood, utterly delighted, a fresh batch of canelés in hand, and smiled as I headed to the train. Pleased to be a REAL New Yorker. There's nothing baloney about that.

Jan. 28 2014 08:41 PM
Lynn P. M. from West Village

My Auntie Ellen and my Husband, Richard.

Auntie Ellen demanded that you provide and accept "change back" after a transaction by
sliding it across a counter; and no eye contact...
~~by contrast~~
My husband encouraged adventure by taking a subway as far North or South and walking home.
One Sunday we were out for nine (9) hours. Best day ever!

I love his New York

Jan. 28 2014 07:58 PM
Armand from nj

My Uncle David
he took us to Gray's Papaya for hot dogs and the Silver Palace for Dim Sum,
40 years ago

Jan. 28 2014 07:55 PM
Fran from Upper West Side, NYC

Someone told me when I first came to NYC in 1969 that "if you don't find IT, IT will find you." And, it did!
NYC is still a city that offers great opportunity whatever your dream is. GO get it, or it WILL find you.
Good luck.

Jan. 28 2014 06:34 PM
Elizabeth from UES

Drivers in my neighborhood taught me how to be a New Yorker when we moved here 5 years ago. When drivers lay on their horns, I motion for them to roll down their window. I then say, "Sh! We live in this neighborhood." The response is always the same; curiosity followed by confusion and a guilty grimace as they drive away.

Jan. 28 2014 06:19 PM
Rich Z from Ridgefield, Ct

My mother, who immigrated from Italy as teen and worked in what was then called the "Garment District". Whenever we came into the city together she would invariably lean in and speaking Italian would tell me what to do, what to out for, or where to walk safely. Drilled into me during the late '50's and'60's,I remain mindful of them to this day.

Jan. 28 2014 05:49 PM
Peter from woodside

Birth in one of the five boroughs is required to be a New Yorker. There is no getting around that. No length of time, experience etc. A transplant to New York can say "I've experienced living in New York" or "I had a New York moment" but without birth in a borough, they are forever an outsider.

Jan. 28 2014 05:34 PM
PDXgram from Portland OR

I've owned a coop in the village (where I let my graduate student son at NY live) and visit the big Apple annually for 40 years. I feel very comfortable in NYC but I've also learned what it is to move new to a city, Portland Or, or travel often say to Washington DC. And we've all mellowed over the years. Nobody has yelled at me in NYC in a decade, so I guess I can pass. I credit that with a renewed sense of community and vulnerability of 9-11.
In Portland nobody yells. Men and young people offer me a seat in Portland streetcars. Some people everywhere, but only a few, don't know to let others off before you get on (elevator, bus, streetcar)but mostly people get it. New York has more people so when they block the sidewalk with their groups or wrong way, you notice it more. With about 6 exceptions a year, street people won't bother you if you keep walking straight away to your destination.
You can feel any city is gracious and warm if you act that way. If you can't pull that off you probably haven't figured out the neighborhood. Knowing who you are means behaving as if you've already made it and can be kind even to those having a bad day or a bad couple of years on or off their meds. I've learned I can meet wonderful strangers with common interests anywhere if I leave time in my day.

Jan. 28 2014 04:55 PM
MSL, NY from UES

I'm a native New Yorker, but raised my sons in Western Massachusetts. The first time my younger went to New York by bus to visit a friend from camp I knew I had to distill my advice or he wouldn't listen to anything. So I told him the most important thing, "Don't go to the bathroom in Port Authority." Happily I think that advice is no longer necessary.

Jan. 28 2014 11:20 AM
Marie Coughlan from In New York (in my heart)

In my first week after moving from Sydney I learned two things for the pedestrians trying to cross the street - first, always stand in the road behind a parked car, not on the pavement (it must be to give you a head start across the road) and secondly I saw several times if a car tried to cut a pedestrian off while they were crossing the road, the pedestrian would bang on the bonnet (hood) of the car, and the driver would sit there and take it! (in Sydney the driver would get out and punch you).

Jan. 27 2014 11:14 PM
Becky from North Bergen, NJ

My first job in New York was as a public middle school teacher in the South Bronx. Those 7th graders taught me how to be a New Yorker. When I later enrolled as a graduate student at NYU and sat through a "Welcome Session" where "experts" advised students not to live or travel above 98th Street on the east side or 110th on the west side, I felt bad that the grad students in my classes were being introduced to the Disney World that is Washington Square Park and would never see the real New York like I had been able to upon my post-college arrival.

Jan. 27 2014 08:52 PM

Two notorious black transexuals and a Colombian lesbian and her family were my teachers in everything New York. The good, the bad and the ugly. 15 years on I now split my time between London and Berlin but we remain close as ever.

Jan. 27 2014 08:40 PM
Renee in Hell's Kitchen from Hell's Kitchen

My father taught me street smarts; he told me to always carry my money in my front pocket, never in my wallet. That way, if someone tried to mug me, I could throw the wallet on the ground, and they would scramble for it. While they were occupied, I would be able to run away to safety. To this day I still can't carry money in my wallet; happily, I've never had to test this theory!

Jan. 27 2014 08:39 PM
DocHolly from my cosy apt.

I moved to NYC in the early 70's because my friends & I believed we were all destined for Broadway. My NY education was provided by my roomie's b/f & our neighbor who taught me as a teenager how to survive the mean streets (and 1970s UWS was junkie alley then..very mean) 1) walk as much as possible to learn your way around 2) when you are walking, sing. People won't bother you if you sing 3) never talk to famous people, they deserve a life too 4) if you see someone looking lost, help them 5) Always keep walking.
Of the 5 of us who moved, one made it to Broadway & beyond. The rest of us? Just the beyond.

Jan. 27 2014 08:29 PM
Pepper from Mercer County

I think you are on to something here: you could compile a list of commandments, things visitors need to know. Sort of a Thou Shalt Not for the Uninitiated. I would buy this. I would buy a copy in every town I visited. When I'm in Rome...

Jan. 27 2014 07:51 PM
francynepelchar from Pelham Bay Park

Back in the late 60ies I was new to NYC, was frequently getting groped. One day I was standing on the sidewalk crying. A man came up to me, asked what the problem was. He seemed sympathetic, so I told him. He told me just to yell at the top of my voice "get your hands off me". It works. His last name was Abolafia (sp?) He was the guy who was running nude for I think it was Mayor, with the slogan "I have nothing to hide".

Jan. 27 2014 06:29 PM
Mark from NYC from New York

1986 - senior year of college; job interview on Wall Street. Get off the subway, and have no idea where I am. I see a well-dressed guy walking toward me, so I ask him for directions. He pauses, rolls his eyes, and says to me: "18 million f**in people in New York, and YOU gotta ask ME for directions?!!!"

Jan. 27 2014 04:52 PM
Tommy Weir from Ireland

Getting lunch in midtown.

Just off the boat a few weeks. Working midtown and one lunchtime at a deli getting a sandwich. The line moved forward briskly, until it came to me.

"Would you have any, eh, whole grain?"
"Yeah, we got whole grain"
"And do you have any Cheddar?"
"Sure, we do."

I got a tap on my shoulder, a little old man, bow tie, pork pie hat. Straight up.

"Hey, stop asking questions. Tell him what you want."

That, right there, is the difference between Ireland and New York.

Jan. 27 2014 04:50 PM
Kevin Walsh

Why is there a "right way" to eat a bagel, or a slice of pizza? Do whatever's comfortable. I usually break a bagel into pieces before eating it.

Jan. 27 2014 04:04 PM

I will never forget the guy who yelled at me "They're called sideWALKS, not sideSTANDS!"

Jan. 27 2014 02:54 PM
Heather O'Mara from Queens

It can't be taught. Either you're a New Yorker, or you're not.

Jan. 27 2014 02:16 PM
Allen Cohen

Murry Rhiner, a friend of my parents who would give us historical tours in his convertible.
But Above all I remember the smell tours, of the meat district, the coffee bean warehouses, bread factories, and of course the wrigely's chewing gum factory in queens.

Jan. 27 2014 02:07 PM
Judy from Greenpoint

when I moved from Ohio to Greenpoint Brooklyn in 2001 the guy at the pizza place we lived above (Triangolos) yelled at me when I asked for a "piece of pepperoni". In his Brooklyn accent he said "DIS is a piece (pointing at a Sicilian)! DIS is a slice (pointing at a regular pie)! Now whadda ya want!"

That and all the others who yelled at me for stopping short on the sidewalk, not staying to the right on an escalator and trying to get on the subway before people get off. All good lessons. Now I'm the one yelling!

Jan. 27 2014 02:07 PM
Jane from New York

My mom, who had lived in New York for several years after graduating from college (in Iowa). I grew up (in Yonkers and Connecticut) listening to her stories about the city, so when I moved to Manhattan in my early 20s, I was already a New Yorker ... albeit a New Yorker of the 1940s!

Jan. 27 2014 01:44 PM
suzinne from bronx

No one person. New York City taught me. Living here taught me. In the old days, you weren't given a guide book.

Actually, this question is best addressed to people who came here as opposed to us natives.

Jan. 27 2014 01:13 PM
nancy from Rock Hill NY

I moved to NYC from California. Before the Graham St. area of Williamsburg was gentrified, One day I walked into a hardward store for some supplies. In the store were 4 old Italian guys sitting in fold up chairs. The only thing on the shelf was a hammer and a box of nails. I said " Do you have any mollybolts"? In a gruff voice, one of the old guys said "Lady, we don't got what you need here". Not taking the hint I asked "Well do you have any masonry screws"? Clearly, exasperated another of the men said "Lady, we said we don't got what you need here"! Shaking my head, I walked out of the store. Later when I recounted my story to my friend who had lived in the neighborhood for several years, he said "Are you really that clueless? It was front for some illegal business"!

Jan. 27 2014 12:08 PM

As an art student in NYC in the 50"s taking an anatomy course, I was on the subway going to school with a paper bag containing my model scull (That looked very real if you did not look too closely) between my legs on the floor. The train lurched and the head tolled out of the bag and down the aisle. People just looked at it casually one man ran after it caught it and returned it to me. The whole train clapped.

Jan. 27 2014 12:06 PM
Amy from Manhattan

This is a relatively new one, only since curbcuts were put in: If you're at the corner on the sidewalk & don't need the ramp, don't block it for people who do.

Jan. 27 2014 11:58 AM
Linda from East Village

I'm a native New Yorker who's observed that those walk down the street more than 2 abreast are invariably out-of-towners. I haven't do this yet, but am always tempted to warn them to break ranks and separate into small groups.

Jan. 27 2014 11:52 AM
Fishmael from NYC

... and sorry I meant "downward" as in poorer quality of life! should be "upward" as in more people wandering aimlessly on the sidewalks...

Jan. 27 2014 11:52 AM
Linda from East Village

I'm a native New Yorker who's observed that those walk down the street more than 2 abreast are invariably out-of-towners. I haven't do this yet, but am always tempted to warn them to break ranks and separate into small groups.

Jan. 27 2014 11:51 AM
Fishmael from NYC

There's been a distinct downward trend (and not just in tourists who will never learn) of people who don't know how to keep to the right on sidewalks and stairs. Efficient traffic flow is the root of all goodness in NYC life!

Jan. 27 2014 11:50 AM

My father (who was used to riding the subways during rush hour[s]) taught me how to read the Times on the subway -- meaning, how to *fold* it.

Jan. 27 2014 11:40 AM
Stuart from Manhattan

I attended PS 156 in Queens during the 1960s. In school, we were taught how to fold a newspaper to be able to read it while standing in a subway car. We were also taught to keep the the right while going up or down a staircase or while walking on the sidewalk. I can always tell who is not a New Yorker by how they walk on a staircase or on the sidewalk. Years later, we were walking on the boardwalk in Seaside Heights with friends who also grew up in New York. We kept to the right, while others were walking towards us on what we considered the wrong side. Our friend remarked "They don't know how to walk".

Jan. 27 2014 11:39 AM

I learned on the streets...

Jan. 27 2014 11:28 AM
John A

My father taught me how to Walk Fast, and until he passed age 75, I can say honestly he could always beat me without breaking a sweat.

Jan. 27 2014 11:27 AM

When we immigrated to the US in 1992, and found our new home in NYC, a very good person told us we MUST have a radio in our kitchen if we want to be New Yorkers and he bought it for us. That’s how we discovered WNYC and it has become a part of our daily life ever since.

Jan. 27 2014 11:22 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

I, as a newcomer to the city in the late 80's, would like to thank the man who threatened to beat me to a pulp, for trying to board a subway car before letting him out.

That was a valuable lesson in NYC subway etiquette, that I've taken to heart ever since.

Jan. 27 2014 11:00 AM

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